Curious, when you come to think of it, how we now fit air-cleaners to engines to negative the fearful effects of dust particles on pistons, yet our cars, with the exception of the F.I.A.T. “500” and Jowett “Javelin,” carry the radiator right where the road-dust will be most easily drawn through it. In Edwardian times they were a bit more wily, or at any rate some of them were, for on the eve of war in Europe Arrol-Johnston, Bayard, Charron, Dodson, Hurtu, Komnick, S.C.A.R., Schneider, Siddeley-Deasy and Renault used dust-excluding bonnets and placed their cooling elements behind their engines. This trend, save for isolated exceptions such as the Phoenix and Hurtu, died with the Armistice — except where the famous marque of Renault was concerned. Yet how few of these Renaults, in all their multiplicity of sizes, does one encounter on British roads to-day! However well their bores may have lasted, the cars themselves seem to have succumbed to the passage of time. Not so in France, however, for as soon as we landed at Le Mans we nearly fell over a brisk vintage “9/15” tourer and marvelled at the drastic shape of its transverse rear spring. And we had scarcely entered the course before again we nearly tripped over another “9/15,” this one painted white and ending its days usefully as — an ice-cream barrow.
Although it took place two months ago, the V.S.C.C. Members’ Day at Silverstone merits additional reference, for undoubtedly it was the vintage event of the season. The One-Hour High Speed Trial took less toll than was anticipated, but it is significant that of the 1 1/2 to 3-litre cars, which should have had the easiest time, being required to average around the 50 m.p.h. mark, only one Aston-Martin, the Tooley, two Lancia “Lambdas,” a solitary 3-litre Bentley and a Type 44 Bugatti managed to qualify, the pace being too much for the “12/50” Alvis cars, the other 3-litre Bentley and two “22/90” Alfa-Romeos, for instance. On the other hand, two Austin Sevens and a Riley Nine managed to complete their set distance quite comfortably within the sixty minutes, in spite of the orange T.T. Austin having a real puncture to contend with, besides its compulsory wheel change. All the over 3-litre cars — two 4 1/2-litre Bentleys and a “30/98” Vauxhall, got home in time, Cook’s well-known 4 1/2-litre Bentley averaging over 60 m.p.h. for 57 miles inclusive of stops. This event MUST be repeated next year! The meeting as a whole attracted a vast entry and left the impression that not only are there plenty of vintage cars still with us, but that, if anything, they are even more hale and hearty to-day than they were before the war. Such famous cars as s.v. and twin-cam Amilcar, G.P. Salmson, Lancia “Lambda.” 3 and 4 1/2-litre Bentley, Aston-Martin, “Ulster” and T.T. Austin Seven, “36/220” and “38/250” Mercédès-Benz, Riley Nine (curiously, however, no “Brooklands” models presented themselves), 1 1/2, 1 3/4 and “2.3” Alfa-Romeo, various Bugattis, 2 and 4 1/2-litre Lagondas, “30/98” Vauxhall, “19/100” Austro-Daimler and Anzani, Gough, Meadows and Blackburn Frazer-Nashes were represented. The non-runners numbered Willment’s Gwynne Eight four-seater with 200-Mile Race crank, which Dr. Ewen, who once owned a Gwynne Ten, was to have shared, an O.M., a “14/40” Delage, an Anzani-Marendaz, and another twin-cam Salmson, etc.
It was nice to see two Austin Sevens beat convincingly all cars up to 2-litres in the “hour” event. Heyward’s was a Bowles-prepared “Ulster,” the other the Bulmer orange T.T. car. The latter looked for all the world as if it were winning that 500-Mile Race of 1930, save that its T.T. wings and lamps were in place, and it was very nice to see it in action again. Birkett had rebuilt it with an engine almost unbelievably standard, even to a touring crank and spit-and-miss oiling, except for enlarged inlet valves, Scintilla Vertex magneto, Whatmough-Hewitt alloy head and a “Nippy” downdraught inlet manifold with S.U. carburetter and, naturally, the three-branch external exhaust system. A 5.66 to 1 axle and 140-40 Michelin tyres gave over 70 m.p.h. up the straight and lap times rather better than those of which a certain redoubtable 4 1/2-litre Bentley was capable. Normal Austin friction shock-absorbers, incidentally, were substituted for the heavy hydraulic type with which Austins used to damp the front axle. Heyward’s car was de-blown, retaining the “blown” camshaft and using a “Nippy” Zenith d/d induction system, “Ulster” exhaust manifold, and 4.9 to 1 axle with 4.00-17 tyres. It had run a year without overhaul. Other vintage Austins were Gahagen’s 1930 “Ulster,” and Willment’s fairly-standard 1930 car with L.M.B. front suspension and a naughty “Press on Regardless” on its bonnet.
Certainly the vintage cars justified themselves, and in the races exclusively for them Delage, Bentley, Lagonda and Aston-Martin took home the winners’ laurels. Of the Edwardians, Heal’s out-handicapped 1910 F.I.A.T. put up a fine show, its best lap of 63.76 m.p.h. being only 0.31 m.p.h. slower than Quartermaine’s best lap in the preceding race, with his lowered, better-braked 1925 “30/98” Vauxhall. It has to be admitted, however, that later, during his epic duel with Birkett’s 1930 3-litre Bugatti, Plowman’s 1924 “30/98 ” Vauxhall, which has a downdraught Zenith on a normal water-jacketed manifold, Hardy-Spicer prop.shaft and Lockheed brakes, lapped at 66.67 m.p.h. The fastest lap by a vintage sports car was made by Rohll’s attractive supercharged “2.3” Alfa-Romeo two-seater, at 70.09 m.p.h., which, in view of its wind catching mudguards, compares favourably with the 70.34 m.p.h. of Matthews’ 3 1/2-litre Jaguar and the 71.44 m.p.h. of Miles’ 1935 Frazer-Nash propelled by Ford’s redoubtable V8 power unit.
Performance of note: Bothwell’s 1914 G.P. Peugeot naturally did not qualify for the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race last May, but it did lap at 100 m.p.h. in the qualifying trials.
Ivan Bennell has nostalgic memories of a 1928 “14/40” M.G. two-seater which he owned many years ago. He recalls the pleasant appearance occasioned by the duo-colour scheme, adequately long bonnet, ribbed brake drums, and apron over the front dumb-irons, even if the radiator did bear the legend “Morris Oxford”! After this period of time he discounts a trifle the claimed 70 m.p.h. and 30 m.p.g., but is quite definite about the reliability and practicability of these M.G.s, which were so closely related to the current Morris-Oxford, even to the S.U. carburetter and magneto ignition. The engine, of course, was the 72 by 102 mm. (1,802 c.c.) side-valve four-cylinder, fed by gravity (always dependable I) from a seven-gallon scuttle tank with a dial contents gauge and a reserve tap. With aluminium bodywork, the polished finish of which was a product of Cecil Kimber’s genius, the weight came out at some 19 1/2 cwt., or 1.2 lb. per c.c., so that acceleration was good, but not phenomenal. The 8 ft. 10 1/2 in. by 4 ft. chassis sprung on 1/2-elliptics, friction-damped, held the road well in the dry, not so well in the wet — “but maybe it was the tyres,” observes Mr. Bennell. A three-speed gearbox was deemed sufficient, and gave ratios of 4.42, 7.16 and 14.13 to 1. The central gear-lever had a decided preference for hiding up trousers-legs and clouted the passenger’s knee when in bottom-gear position, but was otherwise well-placed, heel-and-toe braking was possible, and the price was only £335 including all-weather rig which did not spoil the car’s pleasant appearance. Once the oil was warm quite snappy gear-changes were possible, especially without using the clutch. Mr. Bennell merely remembers owning a “14/40” M.G., although he is keen enough to suggest a get-together of past and present owners of these cars. Some people run them still, however, and he is able to quote the ex-Fernihough “bullnose” 1926 four-seater owned to-day by Mr. Ben Walker, who has had twelve years of almost Utopian motoring from it. New bearings and five thou.-oversize pistons were fitted recently, after some 150,000 miles, but the remainder of the engine was in excellent condition, and the only roadside repairs (yes, roadside!) have been replacement of the inevitable broken half-shaft, and a magneto repair. A con.-rod broke on one occasion but did no other damage. Mr. Walker’s car has coil ignition from a 1930 Morris-Cowley and an aluminium cylinder head which increases the compression-ratio slightly. He cruises it normally at 45-50 m.p.h., and now never exceeds 60 m.p.h. (but he used to get in the region of 80 m.p.h. on the speedometer), being rewarded by a fuel consumption of approximately 26 m.p.g. Steering is described as accurate and light at speed but rather heavy at under 25 m.p.h. N.B. — These old “Morris Garage” M.G.s can be kept on the road with more certainty than many vintage cars, for Morris spares are applicable and fairly easy to obtain.